Review of the restaurant: Lucia Pizza on Avenue X

Walk into any pizzeria in New York, with a few well-known exceptions, and you can order with your eyes closed: a slice of thin-crust cheese is inevitable, a Sicilian or grandma’s slice is likely, a white pie everything cheese is likely. There will definitely be pepperoni, and since many owners buy from the same vendors, the pepperoni you get in the Bronx this week won’t be noticeably different from the pepperoni you had in Queens last week.

Most pizzerias are like cover bands. Some rock harder than others, but they play the same standards. Occasionally, however, one of these groups begins to write their own songs.

It was the story of Di Fara Pizza in Midwood, which seemed like a slice joint around the corner, but was so picky about ingredients and proportions that it started a renaissance of slice joints around New York. Now that seems to be the story of Avenue X’s Lucia Pizza, a four-month-old shop in Sheepshead Bay.

You could easily mistake Lucia for a regular Brooklyn seal that’s been around forever, if not for the fresh paint on the two panels above the door – one shows the crossed flags of Italy and the states -United; the other invites customers to “Come and get your pie!”

Twenty seats are scattered around a simple dining room. Opposite the door is the kitchen, with classic stainless steel Bakers Pride gas ovens and cardboard pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling. Built into the counter at knee level is a self-serve beverage fridge whose inventory suggests someone at Lucia likes cherry soda.

But you know Lucia has strayed from the slice shop model when you walk up to the counter and are handed the ‘spring menu’. It’s about twice as long as the skeletal ‘winter welcome menu’ that was in effect when the place first opened. In truth, the longer list is still somewhat ambitious. When I tried to order the cudduruni, a Sicilian flatbread, I was told, “We’re not ready to serve that one yet.”

Apart from this piece of vaporware, the pleasures of the card are very real. A white pie, salsiccia, is spread with smooth white islands of whipped ricotta surrounded by pork sausage that’s been roasted into crispy brown pebbles — not the usual gray marbles that roll from the crust when you scoop it up. On top, fresh parsley and sweet red onions shaved finely enough to wilt in the oven. Chunks of oil-dried Calabrian chili peppers are also deposited on the surface, though you might not notice them until their heat makes your eyes widen.

A variation on the pork and peppers theme occurs in tarte caramelle piccanti. This is built on the standard bed of tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella. Their temperature is raised by pickled cherry peppers and a few squeezes of Mike’s Hot Honey, a bottle of which is kept on the counter for guests to apply as they please. Pork comes in the form of small slices of pepperoni that become concave, like contact lenses, when cooked.

Pizza connoisseurs will recognize them as “roni cups,” a hallmark of neoclassical slice shops such as Paulie Gee’s, Mama’s Too, and other pizzerias in West Brooklyn and Manhattan. Although the reputation of the mugs has spread, it’s always a bit of a surprise to find them clustered with spiced orange oil a few blocks from the Belt Parkway.

Sheepshead Bay isn’t exactly a clam pizza stronghold either, but Lucia could make one. On Fridays, Lucia bakes a clam pie distinct from the New Haven version. In Connecticut, the clams are laid directly on the batter, but Lucia rests them on a bed of melted mozzarella. New Haven custom also calls for raw garlic; at Sheepshead Bay, garlic is poached in olive oil until golden, then simmered quickly with chopped fresh cherry pits, white wine and butter. This sauce is basically what is mixed with linguine in a hundred Italian restaurants around town. It makes for a sweetly comforting pizza, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the bare power of pies at Zuppardi’s Apizza.

Lucia is a new pizzeria, still finding its way. I hope eventually something can be done about the crust. It was designed for crispiness and it is satisfying to bite into. It’s less satisfying to chew; the flavor is flat and bland, without the depth that the best pizzerias induce into their dough.

I imagine the dough is being DIYed, given all the other signs that Lucia isn’t just stocking her kitchen with clearance-bought produce from Acme Pizza Supply. Tomato sauce tastes fresh and crisp, neither bitter nor sweet. Fresh white mushrooms are cooked and cooked until they taste dark and meaty. This whipped ricotta is really good. Then there are the torn basil leaves tossed on the pies as they come out of the oven, accompanied by fine threads of grated pecorino. These are the touches that elevate even the simplest items at Lucia, like the classic New York slice and the margherita, with its fresh mozzarella layered over the sauce in concentric rings.

The author of all these pies is Salvatore Carlino, the owner of Lucia. He grew up in this neighborhood of squat brick townhouses and wide alleys. For more than 40 years, his parents ran Papa Leone, an Italian restaurant attached to a pizzeria on Main Street in nearby Manhattan Beach, where he used to help out. Lucia’s Papa Leone is a vodka sauce tart made from her father’s recipe.

Under the name P.leone, Mr. Carlino has another career as a musician, producer and DJ (he said his music sounds “like a Q train to Brooklyn, packed and with lots of delays. A bit awkward but fun.” ) He was working in Berlin until the pandemic forced him to return home to Brooklyn.

Without a club to play, he spent his hours baking pizzas in an outdoor oven. Caramel piccanti was born in his garden. One day, a vacant restaurant space appears on Avenue X. He rents it out and starts a new project: the old family track, remixed.

What do the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not rated by stars.